When the fourth season of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) kicks off on Saturday, April 16, it will represent a milestone for women’s soccer in the United States. No other professional U.S. women’s soccer league has ever made it past three years. But this is 2016, and as we’ve seen over the past few months, times are certainly changing.
Could the NWSL survive without the backing of U.S. Soccer? That’s a question I wanted to pose to NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush at the recent NWSL preseason press conference. Unfortunately the call was wrought with technical difficulties. Even Orlando Pride manager Tom Sermanni couldn’t help but give it a chuckle (as he’s known to do). But those things happen, and besides there’s a good chance the question would have been skirted.
Also on hand to answer questions were FC Kansas City defender Becky Sauerbrunn and Orlando midfielder Becky Edwards. And despite the hiccups, Plush and company did give up some interesting tidbits on subjects weighing heavily on the minds of NWSL fans. Here are a few snippets:
“We’ll be extending our relationship with Fox Sports for another year. We’re really excited to have them as our broadcast partners for us once again, for regular season matches as well as the Semifinals and Final.”
Read more about the deal.
“We’re thrilled with our Fox extension, but we want to get more games on air, we want to get more people watching more of our platforms on YouTube.”
“We’re not party to everything that’s going on. We’ll continue to do what we’re doing and that’s work really hard on our 10 clubs, the 200 players, the Federation partners and the season that’s about to embark. We’ll continue to stay focused on what we’re in control of and remain excited about what we’re trying to do and stay ambitious about what we’re continuing to do. But we’re not going to get caught up in the things outside of our control.”
NWSL pay increase:
We try and take wages up each year and we have done that successfully each year. There is certainly more to be done, especially at the lower-end of the pay scale. We are looking at a variety of opportunities we can implement. Some of them would take place within the season, but also we can create incremental opportunities for our players outside the season. One in particular is that we work with some of our players who express interest in coaching, and around coaching courses and licenses – where the league would be willing to underwrite the costs of those education classes.”
Future of the NWSL:
“We talk about long-term strategies. We’ve talked about where we want to be in 2019 and 2023, when we’re a 10-year old league. To get there we need to show growth in lots of areas, in all revenue streams.”
“We certainly want to see more growth in player development. I think that’s a tremendous opportunity for us, seeing a women’s development academy or reserve teams. And all the areas where we can create more opportunities for young women. The exciting part about the fourth season for me, is that we’ve earned the right to expect more from ourselves.”
“I feel strongly that we’re the best league in the world. The way we’ll stay there is by not being complacent, whether that’s in the business side or on the sporting side. So, we’ll continue to be ambitious. The mood around the office is, ‘Let’s go!'”
“We certainly want to expand in pairs. I think there’s lots of reasons going from 10 to 12 (teams) makes sense really for everyone, the clubs, the league and players, travel, bye weeks and all those things.”
“If anything, we’ve tried to slow the process down just a very little bit, just so we can properly get the season launched to make sure that all our attention is on the existing clubs.”
“We have a variety of cities who have expressed interest and that includes MLS clubs, but also other entities. It comes down to the quality of the marketplace, the quality of the stadium and training facilities, quality of ownership. And a partner that is a credit to the league, who’s in it for all the right reasons.”
“The complaint that we filed was with U.S. Soccer. The NWSL is a different thing, so we’re committed to playing in the league. We’re just excited for the NWSL to start and we’re thrilled with the investments that Fox Sports and Nike have put into the league. We’re just going to be focusing on that.”
“All the players are dedicated to our teams for right now, on the pro level. Everything going on with the National Team is kind of separate. As far as negotiations and CBA stuff, that’s all National Team stuff. We’re trying to achieve progress and see progress, but for right now, we’re with our teams, our communities and markets and just focused on the start of the season.”
Orlando’s inaugural season:
“It almost reminds me of playing for Portland in 2013. The fans were so interested and so involved. It really feels like that again. Our owners have been incredible, showing up for practice and showing commitment in that sense, so there’s really something special here and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
“I have been part of a few expansion teams and I haven’t really experienced much like this. It’s just very professional. We’re treated similarly to the men’s team. The reception from the people in the area, the fans has been incredible. If I could compare it to anything, I’d say its similar to my experience in Portland in 2013. It’s similar but it’s better than that.”
Speaking of the Portland Thorns and Orlando Pride, those teams will meet in a much anticipated opening weekend match. However, the very first game of the 2016 NWSL season will kick off at Maryland SoccerPlex, when the home team Washington Spirit match up against the Boston Breakers. USWNT legend Brianna Scurry is scheduled to kick out the first ball.
Here is the complete opening weekend schedule (all games will be streamed on YouTube):
Saturday, April 16, 2016:
Washington Spirit vs Boston Breakers, 7pm ET – Maureen Hendricks Field Maryland SoccerPlex
Houston Dash vs. Chicago Red Stars, 8:30pm ET – BBVA Compass Stadium
FC Kansas City vs. Western New York Flash, 8:30pm ET – Children’s Mercy Park
Sunday, April 17, 2016:
Seattle Reign FC vs. Sky Blue FC, 7pm ET – Memorial Stadium
Portland Thorns vs. Orlando Pride, 10pm ET – Providence Park
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